The History of minimalism – How it started

In order to go forward, we have to go back! The history of minimalism is lengthier than you might think, nearing almost a century of life!

However as of just the last five years or so there has been a modern-day revival of minimalism.  The minimalist aesthetic has reached viral fame and continues to get millions of looks of admiration everyday for its quaint nature and gratifying silhouettes.

The History of minimalism

When did people decide to live with less? Since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, the establishment of factories made it possible to employ large amounts of people and churn out a lot more products.

Since this became possible consumerism has been a prominent social theory, and big corporations are obsessed with pushing out as much consumables as possible so that we can consume as much as possible.

Companies have branded consumption as a good thing, a goal, and encouraged people to view people with a lot of possessions as superior. While you should strive for success, this superficial view has today’s consumers stuck in this cycle of more.

More: the latest things, the flashiest things, the best feeling things, the highest quality things. We’re constantly chasing more

It seems natural for us to want more and more in life. We’ve synonymized abundance with tangible materials. Corporate America and social media have made us believe that it’s in our best interest to have more.

We inherently value bigger and grander because we were always taught that bigger and grander is good. Bigger birthday parties, bigger houses,  bigger jewelry. At what point did minimalism step in and disrupt this way of thinking?

Minimalism: The Beginning

Was minimalism discussed among ancient philosophers and armchair anthropologists amongst warm fires and tea? Probably not. But truthfully, we don’t have an exact date on when minimalism was first mentioned.

But we do know that the concept first sprung to fame in New York City in the 1950s and ‘60s.

This is just a short while after Abstract Expressionism became popular, and the two clashed. Abstract expressionism was the art of expressing emotion in the piece. The onlooker was expected to get insight into the artist’s thoughts and feelings, and make assumptions about tone and mood.

It was the act of being very connected to your mediums—a profound skill which the world-renowned abstract expressionist artist Jackson Pollock is still praised for to this day. 

As we know, though, minimalism is all about disconnecting. The minimalist movement didn’t approve of the idea of relying on your emotional attachment to something in order to create thought-provoking and quality art.

Minimalists remove all emotion from the piece and focus solely and keenly on the visual elements: the shapes, colors, negative space, textures, movements, and doesn’t need to be there. This allows them to do more while putting less on the canvas.

The earliest allusions we have to minimalism are found in the Bible. The Bible features several instances where it insists on the pursuit of a simple, non-materialistic life. One example is Timothy 6:6-8:

“ But godliness with contentment is great gain/ For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out/ And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”

It’s a convincing argument but since we don’t know exactly who started the minimalist march, let’s look at why they started it.

Why was minimalism created?

Minimalism was concocted in direct response and opposition to consumerist ideologies. Minimalism affirms that less is more, and debunks the idea that it has to be big, busy, or loud in order for it to look good.

More isn’t always better–it’s been proven by minimalist artists, composers, designers, and practitioners for decades. Let’s take a look at some iconic figures that made big splashes in the minimalist realm.

Prominent Figures of the Minimalist Movement

  • Frank Stella (1936 – )

Acknowledged for his artistic innovations and talents before the age of 25, Frank Philip Stella has created almost 1,000 stunning pieces of art in his lifetime.

He’s considered one of the leaders at the forefront of the minimalist art movement. Stella is most famous for his Black Paintings series where he plays a lot with repetition, shape, negative space, and bold dark lines.

  • Ellsworth Kelly (1923 – 2015)

A modern American minimalist artist, Kelly makes liberal use of radiant colors and unorthodox shapes.

He became known for his single shape canvases, which feature a single monotone, sometimes 3-dimensional, shape on a canvas, but with slight alterations to its structure (one effect he would use is giving the shape the appearance that its bending at odd angles or stretching).  He crafted his most famous work, an exhibit piece he called White Curve in 1974.

  • Dan Flavin (1933 – 1996)

Instituting a unique approach to minimalism, Dan Flavin is a sculptor and installation artist that creates displays using and featuring fluorescent and colorful lights and LED light fixtures.

Even in the modern day, Flavin’s works look perfectly chic. Arguably the installation that’s garnered the most attention is Untitled (3).

  • Donald Judd (1928 – 1994)

Donald Judd is generally regarded as a master of minimalist art and his art is displayed in over 200 galleries around the world.

He incorporated an industrial aesthetic to his works by using factory-esque materials such as steel, concrete, and plexiglass. He’s often associated with his Stack collection, which he labeled as neither a painting nor a sculpture. 

  • Sol LeWitt (1928 – 2007)

Solomon LeWitt was a Connecticut native who boasted a mastery of line usage and placement, and hard edges. His Wall Drawings series caused the most stir with his textured use of lines against unassuming backdrops.

The Future of Minimalism

You might be wondering what lies ahead for minimalism. Though we obviously can’t have a definite answer to this question it’s fair to say that minimalism isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

As long as society indulges in consumerist habits and beliefs, there are always going to be independent thinkers stepping up to challenge that. 

Materialistic culture is also always going to make it so that there are people that can benefit from a minimalist makeover. Consumerism costs money, time, and resources that not everyone could afford.

There will always be someone who is suffering from consumerism and in need of a change. Consumerist life isn’t for everyone, and minimalism would be the natural path opposite of that. 

The Enlightenment Movement of recent years has spurred the Minimalist Movement even further. Aspects of minimalist life perfectly accommodate a mindful living, which includes daily life, health and even stripping down your cookware to only the necessary minimalist kitchen essentials.

Minimalism encourages you to renew your connection to the world and yourself, limit your exposure with negative things and people, and indulge in genuine sources of happiness. Minimal living is conducive to a positive home atmosphere and perpetual feelings of gratitude. 

Aesthetically it doesn’t show signs of slowing down! Minimalism has stolen the hearts of artists, designers, and even celebrities.

We can see minimalist elements everywhere in Modern style design (so much so, it’s often referred to as minimalist style). Sharp edges, clean lines, use of shapes, and minimal embellishments create that clean, straightedge look that we’ve come to desire. 

Final Notes

What started as a painting technique turned into a staple of modern day culture.

Its phases have spanned all art mediums, and its influence has permeated the homes of people all over the world. The simplicity of minimalism gives it a potentiality that is boundless. And anyone can do it!

The only limit is your imagination. Minimalist artists have spent years wondering not what art could be, but what art couldn’t be. Art is meant to be complex, intricate, and colorful—it can’t be simple, unadorned, and substance-less and still be thought-provoking.

You can’t make serious art with a few lines, a solitary square, little to no color. Art is supposed to be vibrant, colorful, expressive, more! Contrary to that idea, minimalists have taken everything it was thought that art couldn’t be and made it art.

Since minimalists are so in touch with the beauty and essence of everyday things, you’ve perfected a style that nobody would’ve called art had it not been for its genius execution. Minimalism flipped the world on its head upon its conception, and continues to today.

Minimalism in the present is becoming more and more appealing as people have become mindful of what affects their energy. The Mindfulness Movement, The Enlightenment movement, and the rise in spiritual ideals has made people more aware of how the world affects them and how they affect the world.

As people become cognizant of the realities of today’s economic climate it’s likely more people will turn to minimalism in order to find happiness in a world where happiness is defined as the transient feelings we experience when we acquire something expensive.

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